Resource Category
Articles and Publications

Characteristics of US Counties With High Opioid Overdose Mortality and Low Capacity to Deliver Medications for Opioid Use Disorder

Posted 2/26/2020 (updated 3/28/2024)

IMPORTANCE Opioid overdose deaths in the United States continue to increase, reflecting a growing need to treat those with opioid use disorder (OUD). Little is known about counties with high rates of opioid overdose mortality but low availability of OUD treatment.

OBJECTIVE To identify characteristics of US counties with persistently high rates of opioid overdose mortality and low capacity to deliver OUD medications.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS In this cross-sectional study of data from 3142 US counties from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2017, rates of opioid overdose mortality were compared with availability in 2017 of OUD medication providers (24 851 buprenorphine-waivered clinicians [physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants], 1517 opioid treatment programs [providing methadone], and 5222 health care professionals who could prescribe extended-release naltrexone). Statistical analysis was performed from April 20, 2018, to May 8, 2019.

EXPOSURES Demographic, workforce, lack of insurance, road density, urbanicity, opioid prescribing, and regional division county-level characteristics.

MAIN OUTCOME AND MEASURES The outcome variable, “opioid high-risk county,” was a binary indicator of a high (above national) rate of opioid overdose mortality with a low (below national) rate of provider availability to deliver OUD medication. Spatial logistic regression models were used to determine associations with being an opioid high-risk county.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE Counties with low availability of OUD medication providers and high rates of opioid overdose mortality were less likely to be micropolitan and have lower primary care clinician density, but were more likely to be in the East North Central, South Atlantic, or Mountain division and have higher rates of unemployment. Strategies to increase medication treatment must account for these factors.